When Owen Anderson from Magilligan was a young boy he would go as often as he could to Benone beach with his parents to watch the gliders take off and land.
To him, it was magic watching tiny aircraft floating in the sky for miles with no engine.
Owen wasn’t just intrigued, he was fascinated and from then his dream was to fly gliders.
Aged 11 he went to the Ulster Gliding Club in Bellarena, just a stone’s throw from his home, where he worked around the club and eventually started flying. At 16 he was flying solo. Now, aged 40, he is a proud member of the Ulster Gliding Club in Bellarena, where he is a technical inspector, repairing and refurbishing gliders. He is also an instructor and the proud owner of two gliders.
“To think you can fly a craft without an engine for hundreds of miles without any power is amazing,” he says. “It’s the purest from of flying and so peaceful it’s unbelievable. When you’re in a glider you feel like you’re sitting at home in a chair. It’s very peaceful.”
Owen describes being able to fly a glider as “a privilege”.
“We do a lot of flying at the club for people with disabilities and the joy they have when we take them up and when you see their outlook on life, despite the disability they have, is amazing,” he says. “I’ve flown people who have maybe received a voucher for Christmas and they’re not really sure about it but, once they are up, they love it and quite a few come back for a second go. You do get some adrenalin junkies who come for their fix, but they would be in the minority. Many turn up once or twice a year and that’s enough.
“While I’ve been flying for so many years often times the people you take up have never flown before and so you have to put people at ease. You can read people fairly well. Usually when they go quiet in the front seat you know they have had enough and, of course, safety is paramount at all times. It has to be.”
When he has time to fly his own glider Owen likes to get in as much travel as he can, and has enjoyed trips to Dungannon and back, via Omagh and Ballygawley taking him around three hours and covering 100 miles.
“Gliding is like chess in the air. You’re always thinking of your next move and where you are going to go next and, when you are up, you are enjoying the views. Some days you can stay local and go up to the Foyle Bridge and back or to Greencastle and back. It’s great. I have to be flying four or five times a week. Some weeks go by though and you can’t get up because of the weather. I suppose it’s a love, an obsession, and you’re constantly looking at the weather, so you learn to read the charts. Glider pilots are obsessed with one thing and that is the weather.”
At the Ulster Gliding Club, which is almost 80 years in operation, Owen says members are from all walks of life and the club is extremely welcoming.
“Here with the new state-of-the-art visitor centre, everyone is welcome and accommodated for,” he says. “I probably am living the dream, I’m just a stone’s throw away and can come at any time not like other people who come from far away and have to arrange their life around gliding. I can look out my back door and see the airfield and the doors of the hangar.
“I love flying and I hope to be flying for a very long time. It’s a dream and it’s a joy to take someone up in the glider for the first time. It’s a privilege to be able to do that and, 99 per cent of the time, you see them go home with a smile on their face.”